Thursday, June 30, 2011

Chicago Blackhawks Ice Cream: Phase 3

What is Chicago Blackhawks ice cream? As far as I know, no such flavor exists outside my kitchen. Together, gentle reader, we will explore this question to create the definitive Chicago Blackhawks ice cream…even though hockey current events mean we will be enjoying our treat from a dish instead of a cup.

In Phase 1 and 2, I explored color and texture to create an ice cream that featured the Blackhawks team colors (predominantly red, black and white) and the visceral elements of hockey (blood and teeth). Thanks to suggestions from my very creative friends, Phase 3 journeys even further outside the box.

Pictured is Phase 3, a blackberry ice cream with macadamia nuts and both dark and white chocolate chunks. How this flavor relates to Blackhawks hockey may not be intuitive because what appealed to my friends were the visceral elements of the sport. Blackberry, the color of a bruise (though you can't tell in this photo). Macadamia nuts, crunchy and far better at representing knocked-out teeth than marshmallows. Dark and white chocolate chunks, ice and pucks in motion. (Eat your heart out, Umberto Boccioni .)

Suggestions for Phase 4? Leave a comment.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Who am I kidding?

These people are idiots. I didn't want to be on their Millennial Advisory Panel anyway...unless they changed their minds, of course. Let me know! kthx

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Report: Ben & Jerry’s: The Inside Scoop (Part 2)

Published in 1994, this book was written by Fred “Chico” Lager, the man who became the company’s first general manager in 1982. More than just a dry history lesson, this is an entertaining read written from someone on the inside. Anecdote after quirky anecdote makes this account of the company’s path to success worthy of a Coen brothers movie. Continuing where I left off in Part 1, here’s Part 2 of my book report.

By 1983, Ben & Jerry’s had already outgrown their manufacturing plant, which had seemed far too large when they moved in during 1981. But their wholesale business was taking off, much due to their unique product. Though superpremium ice cream was first introduced to grocery stores by Häagen-Dazs in 1960, Ben & Jerry’s (funky, unpretentious and full of chunks) had perfectly carved out a unique niche that helped them get placement. Supermarkets would only stock three superpremium ice creams, which generally included Häagen-Dazs (the market leader) and, before the entrance of Ben & Jerry's, two Häagen-Dazs copycat brands jumping on the band wagon with elegance and faux-foreign branding. As they grew, Ben & Jerry’s expanded into new markets with innovative approaches, such as storming office buildings in Boston to give away free ice cream.

In all of this expansion, the company strived to stick to its community focus and its investment in their employees. When the company needed to raise money for a new factory, Ben defied the input of all in his decision to sell stock exclusive to Vermont residents. It worked, meaning 1 in every 100 Vermont residents held stock in the company, thereby making those who made the business successful part of the profits. They made it their goal to use milk from Vermont farms and ingredients from local sources. The company increased their donations to the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation from 5% to 7.5% of pretax profits. At this time, they also had a rule of 5-to-1 pay scale ratio, where the highest paid could only get a max of 5x the lowest salary. 5% of the pretax profits were distributed to employees, giving them a stake. And there was also the 3 pints/day benefit for all workers. More people were hired when they opened the Waterbury factory; a larger staff meant workers had a greater distance from the product. To keep them engaged, meetings featured “small group” sessions where groups pitched their ideas to cut costs or suggestions to improve conditions. They also had annual recognition, ensuring an employee’s efforts were acknowledged at least once a year. And to keep things fun, the Fred Award (named after the book's author) was given out to those who nominated themselves for frugally finding ways to cut costs.

More ice cream meant they were generating more waste. To offset this, they bought a local farmer $10,000 worth of pigs to consume the edible portion of the waste, provided one pig was named Ben and another Jerry. This wasn’t the only crazy idea floating around the offices at the time: Ben wanted to start Zippy, a company that sold a carbonated milk beverage. But the craziest idea, which thankfully never became a reality, was from a short-lived marketing director who suggested opening scoop shops for breakfast to “serve scrambled eggs in waffle cones, an item he wanted to call ‘Cone Egg, the Breakfast Barbarian.’” (159)

Around this time in 1987, a flavor was launched whose name was suggested by two Deadheads in Portland, Maine: Cherry Garcia. The reaction from Jerry Garcia was “‘As long as they don’t name a motor oil after me, it’s fine with me.’” (157) Following the flavor’s success, other customers suggested witty(?) flavor names—Donny Almond, Milly Vanilla and Scoop O’ Jesus—that never moved past the suggestion phase. Which isn’t to say that Ben & Jerry’s didn’t create some duds all on its own. Some career lows for Peter Lind, hired as head of Research and Development around this time, were Fred & Ginger (ginger ice cream with chocolate bow ties) and Sugar Plum (plum ice cream with a caramel swirl). Their policy at the time was to discontinue one flavor as another was added, rotating a total of 12 flavors. People wrote in when their favorite went away; Sugar Plum was not missed. In 1991, customer suggestions once again struck gold when Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough became the best selling flavor in just 2 months, surpassing Heath Bar Crunch.

As the company’s success continued to grow, they looked for even more ways to be community-focused. Ben wanted the company to be socially-minded in how it chose the suppliers of ingredients. In one example, they hired Greyston Bakery (an organization that employed the homeless and put money into programs that served the homeless) to make the brownies for their ice cream. They also launched Partnershops, where Ben & Jerry’s waived the franchise fee and provided management assistance to the get business running. Local service organizations could open a Partnershop to provide job experience and business training to populations that needed it. The profits made the programs self-funding.

During 1992, sales were up 36% to $132 million, profits up 79% to $6.7 million and Ben & Jerry's was named by Forbes Magazine one of the 200 Best Small Companies in America for the third straight year. After that, well, I’ll need to write my own book.

(I do not take credit for the information in this blog entry. All credit is due to Fred “Chico” Lager, author of Ben & Jerry’s: The Inside Scoop.)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Book Report: Ben & Jerry’s: The Inside Scoop (Part 1)

Published in 1994, this book was written by Fred “Chico” Lager, the man who became the company’s first general manager in 1982. More than just a dry history lesson, this is an entertaining read written from someone on the inside. Anecdote after quirky anecdote makes this account of the company’s path to success worthy of a Coen brothers movie. Here’s the quick version.

Ben and Jerry became friends in junior high and worked summers together growing up in Merrick, NY (part of Long Island). After high school, Ben applied himself where he liked, which included a brief stint at Colgate University (an institution he selected because of its inclusion of fireplaces in the dorms), jobs working on ice cream trucks and teaching crafts in the Adirondacks. Soon after Jerry successfully completed college, Ben decided they should start a business together.

After ditching their first idea of Sunday Bagels & Lox delivery in NYC, they decided on making homemade ice cream in a rural community with a large college population and a warm climate. In pursuit of this dream, they took a correspondence course in ice cream making through Penn State, splitting the $5 tuition. Though the climate was far from warm, Burlington, VT was the setting they chose. They secured a loan in Dec. 1977 (impressing the bank with the fact they had taken a course in ice cream from Penn State, but not mentioning the key words “correspondence course”) and on May 5, 1978 opened their flagship location in an abandoned gas station.

People lined up from the beginning. They were after all, offering a unique product. Beyond some of the zanier flavors (Mocha Chip, Pina Colada, Burgundy Cherry, Banana Rum, Coconut, Carob and their best-selling Oreo Mint) they had tricked out their ice cream maker to churn at just 20 rotations per minute, thereby lessening the amount of air that got whipped into the ice cream. On only ninth day of business, they sold out of ice cream. It would be the first of many times. After two months of business they had to close for a day to figure out finances, putting a sign up in the window that said, “We’re closed today so we can figure out if we’re making any money.” They seemed to be breaking even, though their non-ice cream products (including Ben’s sea scallop crepe with mushrooms and onions) were not selling well at all and were soon after dropped. Being that they were just a couple of guys and not accountants, they learned as they went: “At first Jerry paid the bills, but when they ran into cash-flow problems Ben took over. Ben stopped paying bills and cash flow improved immediately.” (28)

Beyond a unique product, they were a part of the community, holding events that were part-circus sideshow and part carnival fair. (At one such event, Jerry set his chin on fire while fire-eating.) They projected movies on a neighboring building. And at their 1-year anniversary, they introduced Free Cone Day, an annual event that still happens each year. Flyers for the event included a quote from Ben: “Business has a responsibility to give back to the community from which it draws its support.”

While still a young business, they started wholesaling ice cream, first to businesses and later to mom-n-pop grocers. They offered 8 flavors: Oreo Mint, French Vanilla, Chocolate Fudge, Wild Blueberry, Mocha Walnut, Maple Walnut, Honey Coffee and Honey Orange. They bought a machine to fill the pints, but it frequently got clogged due to the larger-size chunks. This sparked a debate: Jerry wanted smaller chunks so there would be a chunk in every bite, but Ben wanted larger chunks because the downside of not having a chunk in every bite was overcome by getting a huge chunk in other bites. They made the holes in the machine bigger to allow for the bigger chunks.

Business continued to grow, so they decided to begin franchising and in July of 1981 the first franchise was opened in Shelburne, VT. But this growth made them worry that “they had become a cog in an economic machine whose values they had questioned all their lives. The business had grown well beyond the small, community-oriented ice cream shop they had set out to open.” (54) Ben changed his mind when he met Maurice Purpora who said Ben could “[redefine] the business so that it was consistent with his personal values, even if they didn’t conform with traditional notions of how a business should be run.” (57)

Continued in Part 2...

(I do not take credit for the information in this blog entry. All credit is due to Fred “Chico” Lager, author of Ben & Jerry’s: The Inside Scoop.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

New Flavors: Ben & Jerry’s Class of 2011

Dear Ben & Jerry’s,

To show there are no hard feelings over not being chosen for the Millennial Advisory Panel, I will dedicate a few blog entries to you, starting with this review of your new flavors. Since I'd been expecting to receive those 52 free pint coupons you give to Panel members, I held out on purchasing the new flavors. But now that reality has kicked in, so has my wallet.

Much anticipation preceded the new batch of flavors because of the 20-30 minute survey your company invited me to take regarding flavor innovations being considered. The results of that data must have contributed to this year’s batch: two new creations and three flavors that have long been explored in neighborhood scoop shops, but are uncommon to the grocery store freezer.

Red Velvet Cake – In my mind, the cake batter ice cream craze derives from the nostalgia of the quintessential birthday combination of cake and ice cream. For me, the true determinant of a successful cake ice cream is texture, namely the inclusion of cake pieces throughout. In red velvet cake, the trick is to have a balance of cake and cream cheese. In this flavor, Ben & Jerry’s uses the same delicacy and subtlety that they use in their cheesecake ice creams. My friends are going gaga for this flavor, and though it can't compare to Creole Creamery's flavor of the same name, I find myself stocking my freezer with this Ben & Jerry’s treat. Good thing since New Orleans isn’t exactly close by.

Clusterfluff –When I read the name of this flavor, I figured it was Fluffernutter ice cream, a flavor I myself had made before. But strangely, the flavor isn’t that at all. A peanut butter ice cream base features caramel cluster pieces, peanut butter and marshmallow swirls. The overabundance of peanut butter (When did peanut butter become a dessert? Am I in the minority in disagreeing with this?) makes for not enough cluster (which lack crunch) and not enough fluff (which is inferior to the deliciously gooey marshmallow fluff one finds in Phish Food). But the misleading nature of this flavor is nothing compared to the next one…

Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night Snack – When this flavor advertises that it contains fudge covered potato chips, it sounds delicious and innovative. But while I’m sure legal obligation means the clusters are actually potato chips, they taste like rice puffs to me. Where’s the salt to balance out the sweet? I couldn’t taste it. High expectations, terrible disappointment.

Also new is Bonnaroo Buzz which I skipped. It seems to be an amalgamation of ice cream flavors I don’t enjoy. All that’s missing is banana.

So there you have it, an almost completely negative review of the Class of 2011. I swear it wasn’t on purpose, Ben. Dry those eyes, Jerry. I promise to show some love in the blog entries to follow.

Yours in ice cream,

P.S. If you have any more of those free pint coupons, I still have a stomach.

UPDATE: What the fluff? Clusterfluff is now being labeled What a Cluster. This name is tamer than the original name and a LOT more tame than "Mothercluster" or "Fluffing Ridiculous."